In the week leading up to Venezuela’s April 14 presidential elections, whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks published a classified cable indicating that US-based aid organisations were working to overthrow the government and defend US corporate interests in the Andean country.
Sent from the US embassy in Caracas on November 2006, the cable details how dozens of non-government organisations (NGOs) are financially maintained by US government-funded US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). This includes “over 300 Venezuelan civil society organizations”, ranging from disability advocates to education programs.
Many of the initiatives sound well-intentioned, such as ones supporting an environmental lobby group and a garbage collection program in Caracas.
However, USAID/OTI support for these benign-sounding groups was part of a larger, four-pronged project.
The ultimate aims of the embassy were described by then-US ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield as “penetrating Chavez’s political base ... dividing Chavismo ... protecting vital US business ...[and] isolating Chavez internationally”.
According to Brownfield, the “strategic objective” of developing opposition-aligned “civil society organizations[sic] ... represents the majority of USAID/OTI work in Venezuela”.
However, among the dozens of groups mentioned in the document, the usual suspects of US interventionism also make appearances.
According to the document, OTI funded a Freedom House program in Venezuela with US$1.1 million, while Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) provided grants totalling $726,000 on behalf of OTI.
DAI has a long history of working to undermine governments that oppose US hegemony, and this isn't the only time its operations in Venezuela have raised questions.
In 2002, DAI worked with the National Endowment for Democracy to fund a right-wing propaganda campaign during the 2002 oil industry lockout that sought to bring down Chavez’s government.[
At the time, the US State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher responded to allegations that government funds were being poured into Yushchenko's campaign, telling media: “Our money doesn't go to candidates. It goes to the institutions that it takes to run a free and fair election”.
One such US-funded NGO was the International Centre for Policy Studies — of which Yushchenko was a board member.
When Brownfield wrote the leaked cable in 2006, Freedom House had $1.1 million in USAID/OTI funding to play with in Venezuela.